Crushed-candy sunset skies loom outside. Artificial fog rises and absorbs the deep lights around the open arcade doors. They’re open to let the heat out but the heat never leaves. The fog folds onto itself in boiling knots - a witch’s cauldron.
Bubblegum sticks to his shoe.
“Gimme a sip of your soda, philosopher,” dancing-king Dandy says because he can’t stop dancing and his favourite part is coming up.
I hold out my drink and watch the glowing pink liquid slosh up through the swirly glass straw as he drinks. I like the arcade, though I’m not like the psychic third-eye generation kids, laced up in zig-zagging patterns up to their knees, swaying in the neon drenched roller-skating rink. Melting vanilla ice creams and tasteless fries and urban legends shared in-between laughing whispers.
I pass by to hang out every now and then. I have to since the bus terminal to downtown Honest, Honest? is here. But it’s also the place to be. I’d heard rumours about what happened to Sunny when I arrived but folks around here are reluctant to talk to philosophers.
There are several versions of it. Sunny slipped and took a tumble down the neon-lined stairs and cracked her head wide open on the dance floor, bringing everyone to a halt and no one’s seen her since. Sunny ran away, though it’s hard to image and you’ll understand why in a bit. Sunny got kidnapped. Sunny never existed.
But they whisper. They whisper about her splayed out limbs like a squished bug. One eye rolled back into her head. Drunken loopy grin on her face. They chase her now - she’s the new myth. They gather in corners to attempt ghostly conversations with her but she never replies. If a milkshake spills, it’s a sign. If the laser lights freeze and glitch, it’s a sign. The little handprints on the front windows are hers. They listen for her name in song lyrics.
It irks me. I don’t like it when things shift around here and I don’t like looking for omens. Dandy’s sprayed up up-do shakes as his feet smash the lit-up arrows around him. High scores and the shrilly screech of a new record. His flock of adoring fans. I turn my back to the dancing, lean my elbows on the cool silver of the railing.
“Aren’t you scared you’ll get stuck here?” Alexei asks, darkness gathering in the hollow half-circles under his eyes.
“I guess you’re not eating so I’ll order for myself,” Rose says, dropping the menu on the table and her pretty eyebrows arch.
“I’ll have a drink.”
“Me too.” Alexei leans forward. “Go on. You were saying the pharmacist prepares this concoction for you.”
“It doesn’t have to be the pharmacist. But it’s safer.”
“Yeah, yeah. What’s inside?”
I’ve been telling Alexei about the nature of my work. I get around and it gets me mixed up in all sorts of stuff. Trouble, mostly.
“Let’s see,” I start, quite amused at his enthusiasm. You don’t see him out of his constant low much and he’s too bitter for someone who throws a mime show in a cafe. Why not indulge? “I know they crush and drip and mix all these things that turn blue and they swish the concoction around with a rod. They carefully free these sounds trapped in tiny bottles. Some Dead Sea Scrolls verse. Then, there’s a part I don’t like much.”
“A harpy. The pharmacist keeps in jars and takes them out with tweezers. Pushes them into the concoction. They’re still alive, mostly, and their little lungs let out a bubble of drowning breath.”
It sizzles like opening a fresh can of pop when it dissolves in a crimson foam. The liquid turns purple.
“Way to spoil the mood before the fireworks show,” Rose points out. “I don’t know how you can stand it.”
“I don’t know either,” I say, honestly. “So, I take the miracle medicine and I go to sleep.”
In the pharmacist's backroom when they let me. I slip and I feel warm under the thickly knitted blanket. I listen to their pleasantly long nails typing on the keyboard. I look at the plushy armchair covered in velvet fabric and sown-in golden lilies. My lids droop and I know it arrived thousands of years ago. I know the prophets were soaked in it. I know astrophysicists chase it and the philosophers don’t know how to get rid of it.
Deviance lives in all of us. But this isn’t trivial criminality nor is it the eccentricity of art. There are some with a special glint, a special reclusion – a break that if they didn’t have, would rip reality apart. I sniff out more than secrets and intimate niches. I don’t care where you dig a place for your sorrow. Hide it in the lowest low of the earth or sew it in the fabric of your coat, you won’t get rid of the smell of longing. Philosophers are cursed that way - to pick up too many details. To soak in lives and intricate personalities. To tell who’s prone to the singularity.
The dancer and her curving bare back glinting with sweat or the closed-off routine-bound office worker. The poor university student who works a part-time job at a grocery store and tries to sigh out the weight of his life on the bike-ride home. The old man with a string of affairs and a pretty wife and the dead girlfriend he can’t get off his mind. Whose childhood faded but retained the particular quality of a blurry nightmare. Who’s riddled with endless insomnia. Whose food doesn’t taste. Who’s shackled by the heavens in the back of a grimy downtown bus. Who drinks too much or doesn’t drink at all.
Most stop thinking about the confinement of skin. Of knowing yourself too well, or of not knowing yourself enough. Most lose the ecstasy of layers. Dreams and the languid disappearance of time. The transformation of space. They shed possibilities when they step out of childhood. Unnecessary. Pointless. Repulsive. Pathological.
“We should check on Liv.”
“She said she wanted to see the fireworks, too,” Rose says, her eyes catching in the lights as she blinks fast. “It’ll be a hell of a view from that treehouse of hers.”
Dandy’s silent. His fingers grip around the metal fence and sweat shimmers like scales on his warm dark skin. He’s done with dancing and his seriousness lowers my gaze.
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